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The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Working for the rights of the world’s indigenous people is one of hundreds of ways in which Medical Mission Sisters and our Associates around the world try to be a healing presence to others today.

From May 16-27, 2011, the United Nations held its tenth session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, a landmark for the indigenous peoples of the planet. Sisters Katherine Baltazar and Celine Paramundayil attended this event.

There are over 370 million indigenous people in some 90 countries today. These people constitute 5% of the world’s population, yet make up 15% of the world’s poor. Of the some 7,000 languages in use today, it is estimated that 4,000 are spoken by indigenous people.

The Forum, an advisory body to the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council, has a mandate to discuss indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights.

The Forum officially opened with an Iroquois chief invoking the Great Spirit in his own native tongue. Sister Katherine shares, “I loved it when the indigenous people spoke up — their words pouring out from their hearts with such poignancy. This is perhaps why their cause resonates so strongly with me — the power of their words is very moving.”

The group has formulated a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the UN member states. This document sets a standard for countries to acknowledge the principles of justice, democracy, respect for human rights, equality, non-discrimination, good governance and good faith. Sister Katherine says, “As we all sat in the great General Assembly chamber, all listened with rapt attention to the American spokeswoman, a Cherokee, giving a report on the progress made under the Obama administration.”

Sister Katherine, a psychiatric nurse practitioner who has visited native peoples in New Zealand and Australia and served among the Lakota Sioux, said she was delighted to see a woman elected to chair the Forum. “I relish hearing the men publicly acknowledging the importance of role of women in indigenous cultures.”

For more information about the Forum, please visit: www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii

July 1, 2011